Monday, April 15, 2013

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 15: Segregation ideology and contemporary conservatism

Chauncey DeVega can be blunt: "Given what we know about racial framing in the news media, and the increasing overlap of conservatism and racism (they are now almost one and the same thing) ..." (my emphasis)

That's from Colorblind Politics in Practice? Puzzling Through Kermit Gosnell and Racial Framing in the Right-Wing Media WARN 04/14/2013 about the case of Gosnell, who as Scott Lemeiux explains, is "a Philadelphia doctor accused of committing infanticide, and maiming and, in some cases, killing his patients (most of them poor women) in an unsanitary abortion clinic." (Five Lessons from the Gosnell Abortion-Clinic Controversy The American Prospect Online 04/15/2013.

Is DeVega's statement fair, that "conservatism and racism" are "now almost one and the same thing"?

It is fair, because what is popularly called "conservatism" in the US largely equals the Republican Party and the Republican Party has fully embraced voter-suppression approaches targeted at African-American and Latino voters.

The denial of the vote to black citizens was the core the segregation system in the South from roughly 1875-1970. The terror involved in lynch law, the discriminatory acts of employers and law enforcement, and the neurotic trappings of segregation proper (the "Jim Crow" laws with separate public drinking fountains for blacks and whites) were all very much part of that system. But the political core of it was the disenfranchisement of blacks. It took that, and the collapse of the national parties' commitment to protecting basic civil rights in the South, to overthrow the democratic governments of Reconstruction.

The fact that the Republican Party has now made racially-targeted voter suppression part of their standard operating procedure means that they are now trying to reimpose a key element of white racism, white supremacy and segregation.

Does that mean that the Democratic Party now has clean hands and a pure heart on issues involved with white racism? Leaving aside whether a political party can be said to have a "heart," no, it doesn't. There are many aspects of American life, such as the way in which law enforcement and prison sentencing work, especially in connection with the never-ending War on Drugs, that the Democratic Party either accepts or gives a low priority to correcting. President Obama's proposed cuts to benefits for Social Security and Medicare would disproportionately harm communities of color.

But it's also safe to say that those who are concerned with issues of opposing discrimination and eliminating racial discrimination do not, with rare exceptions, identify with the Republican Party and what we take for "conservatism" in the US today.

And voter suppression is a red line on this. Anyone who supports voter suppression supports white racism, whatever they may claim their subjective feelings are about racism.

DeVega raises a thought-provoking set of questions about the Kermit Gosnell case. It's a cause for the antiabortion movement which is a central part of today's Republican Party. But he observes, noting that Gosnell is black:

... given the Right-wing media's efforts in 2008 to smear then candidate Barack Obama as a "radical" "baby-killer" and how contemporary conservatives wallow in white racial resentment, the connection between racial anxiety and hostility, partisanship, abortion as a public policy issue, and Kermit Gosnell should be too much to resist. My survey, however limited, of the Right-wing media has revealed few if any such connections.
One suggestion he raises as a question is to ask if because antiabortionists argue that "abortion is a tool used by 'progressives' to commit 'genocide' against the African-American community, have conservative opinion leaders developed 'race neutral' talking points about Kermit Gosnell to mobilize the anti-women's reproductive rights base?"

His aren't easy questions, though people who have been following that case closely might have good answers. With the activists antiabortion movement, you get deep into fanaticism and Christian dominionism, and many of the experienced activists are media-savvy. That particular argument that the Evil Libruls want to use abortion to commit genocide against blacks is in itself so uncoupled from what we quaintly call reality that its a marker of serious fanaticism. When rightwingers are indulging in this extreme of racial role-reversal with a genuinely weird twist, you don't have to dig too far to find white racist attitudes. But that doesn't answer his question just quoted, which has to do with the public vocabulary used for conservatives to mobilize supporters around this particular issue.

Part of the rightwing schtick around this case has been to falsely claim that the ever-threatening Liberal Media Conspiracy has tried to suppress the story. I notice in this column from one of the older conservative media outlets, The Gosnell Embargo Cracks Human Events 04/12/2013, John Hayward says of the Evil Libruls accomplishment, "The Men in Black could not have erased this story better with their neuralyzers."

On the substance of the accusation against the Evil Librul Media here, Scott Lemeiux writes:

Whether the mainstream national media has given adequate attention to the Gosnell case is a matter of judgment, although claims that it's been entirely ignored are incorrect. (Consider, for example, Sabrina Tavernise's lengthy New York Times story from 2011.) But it should be remembered who hasn't been ignoring the story: feminist writers. Many prominent feminists, for obvious reasons, reacted with horror to the charges against Gosnell.
That second link in Lemeiux's quote is to Irin Carmon, There is no Gosnell coverup Salon 04/12/2013.

But I also wanted to call attention to the description DeVega gives of how white racism operates in real life in his post on the Gosnell case:

There are volumes of research in the Social Sciences which have repeatedly demonstrated that race is an important variable in news coverage of crime (people of color are grossly over-represented as criminals; whites are grossly under-represented). Race also impacts how individuals quite literally "see" and understand events, as well as judge human social interaction.

In tests measuring implicit bias and sub-conscious racism, harmless objects held by black men are magically transformed into dangerous objects such as guns and knives when viewed by white test takers. This has real life and death consequences: police routinely murder innocent people of color because they claim to have seen a cellphone, a wallet, or house keys as deadly weapons.

Psychologists also conducted experiments where they showed test takers pictures of Tony Blair and Barack Obama. The former, then British Prime Minister, and white, was judged to be "American." Obama, the country's first black president, was seen as a "foreigner."

In the collective (white) American subconscious, "whiteness" equals belonging; "non-whiteness" is a mark of outsider status, of being a perennial Other and anti-citizen--even if you are President of the United States.
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